Through five years, 1,251 career points, a national championship and a chance for another, Jermaine Samuels already has a Ph.D in the most important course: Villanova basketball.

Much was asked of the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward on Thursday night — like matching up against Michigan’s 7-1, 260-pound Hunter Dickinson. He did just that and added a game-high 22 points to push Villanova past Michigan, 63-55, for a berth in the Elite Eight.

“I was proud of his toughness,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “but we have more work to do.”

That work continues Saturday against Houston with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport

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While Villanova is in San Antonio for the NCAA’s South Regional, the East Regional is coming to Philly and The Inquirer will be in both locations every step of the way. Join Jensen and Sielski as they offer an insider’s look at Villanova’s tournament run and break down the rest of the field during a special edition of Gameday Central. Tune in Friday, March 25, at 2:15 p .m. as Jensen and Sielski chat with Inquirer columnist David Murphy on Inquirer LIVE.

Registration Link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/inquirer-live-bracket-jawn-tickets-300986297117

Madness Memories

Thirty years ago, “The Shot” lifted Duke past Kentucky and into the Final Four, further solidified Christian Laettner’s legacy as an icon, and became one of the most memorable plays in college basketball history. And it all went down in Philadelphia, at the Spectrum. Game official Tony Clark, now 72, had the call and remembers the high stakes moment and the pandemonium that ensued.

The East Regional teams ascending on Philadelphia come into town looking to keep their trips going as long as possible, including one 15-seed Cinderella.

Tonight at the Wells Fargo Center

  • No. 15 St. Peter’s vs. No. 3 Purdue, 7:09 p.m.

  • No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 4 UCLA, 9:39 p.m.

Early Birds

It’s still Derek Barnett for the Eagles. Somewhat surprisingly, he re-signed with the team on a two-year deal despite diminished production and questionable decision-making that famously had coach Nick Sirianni saying into his headset, “It’s always him.”

But Barnett is still only 25, and the Eagles likely brought back their former first-round pick on a cost-effective deal to have him play a lesser role. With Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat both signed long-term, the Eagles are set at edge rusher.

It hasn’t been the splashiest free-agency period thus far, with Reddick being the biggest addition. Wide receiver Zach Pascal was also introduced as an Eagle on Thursday, and he spoke of why he has a close relationship with coach Nick Sirianni.

Extra Innings

When it came time to sell their 2006 Toyota Camry, it was a bittersweet moment for Donny Sands’ mother, Alma. Sure, her son had bought her a new Mercedes Benz with his signing bonus after being drafted by the Yankees. But that trusty Camry had seen the most harrowing parts of their journey, including the seven months Sands used it as his home when he was in high school. Now a 25-year-old Sands is competing for the Phillies’ backup catcher job.

The Phillies have invested in new talent to bolster their roster. Now it falls on Joe Girardi to sort through all the pieces. In two weeks. Here are the big questions he faces.

Who’s on third? Alec Bohm ... right? Not so fast. Girardi says Bohm is not “etched in stone” as the starter.

Next: Nick Castellanos is expected to make his Phillies spring debut against the Yankees today at 1:05 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia+).

Off the Dribble

A basketball lifer who has been an NBA player, broadcaster or coach for nearly 40 years, 76ers coach Doc Rivers has a good grasp of the history of the Los Angeles Clippers — and he knows how much his tenure there altered the franchise’s future.

Rivers was a coach and general manager there from 2013 to 2020, leading a “Lob City” team that included Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in deep playoff runs. He later played a part in bringing Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to town. “A lot happened in that [seven] years. I left [the organization] a place of destination,” Rivers said.

He’s not wrong. Those transactions would’ve been inconceivable only 10 years earlier.

Next: With that backdrop, Rivers should receive a warm welcome when the Sixers face off against the Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles (NBCSP+).

On the Fly

Hayden Hodgson became the fifth Flyer to make his NHL debut this season, after the 26-year-old laced them up against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

Hodgson’s journey to the NHL has not been a straightforward one, as he only earned an AHL contract with the Phantoms this summer following a tryout. Having bounced around the ECHL the last few years, Hodgson was tied for the Phantoms’ team lead with 18 goals at the time of his call-up.

The Flyers marked the occasion by winning on the road for the first time in 2022. After 13 straight road losses, they beat the Blues, 5-2.

Fleet Street

In Mexico, at Azteca Stadium, the U.S. men’s national team, full of youthful optimism, entered the final round of Concacaf qualifying hoping to make history, preferably with a victory.

Well, they did make some history, but it was of a recent sort, since for the third World Cup qualifying game in a row in that venue (2014, 2017 and 2022) the USMNT managed to eke out a point. That’s still a bit of a disappointing result, as the U.S. had some excellent opportunities to score and yet couldn’t manage to do so.

Closer to home, Jonathan Tannenwald takes a look at the Union’s participation in the new MLS reserve league, along with a profile of a coach who may make history soon.

Worth a Look

We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Jeff McLane, Josh Tolentino, Alex Coffey, Scott Lauber, Mike Sielski, Mike Jensen, Zech Lambert, Matt Breen, Frank Fitzpatrick, Andrea Canales, Ariel Simpson, Jonathan Tannenwald, Giana Han, Olivia Reiner, and Keith Pompey.